Ten tips from top authors on how to write (with a copywriter’s ad-related elaborations).

3 minutes to read

As an insecure writer racing against Lycra-tight deadlines, I’m forever seeking reassurance that I’m working as efficiently as possible. From Brain Pickings to Buzzfeed, the internet is overloaded with ‘Top tips on how to become a successful [insert anything here]’. I’ve scrolled through an afternoon’s worth of wisdom to give you the writing tips I find most useful, elaborating along the way (in green) so they relate to the day job – writing adverts. Whether spending an afternoon searching for ways to be more efficient is actually efficient is up for debate. Comments are welcome.

1 – ‘Write.’ Neil Gaiman
Pretty obvious. But if you’ve absorbed all the product information you can and still find yourself staring at a blank page, just write. It doesn’t matter how childish or basic it sounds, just start. The good stuff will soon follow.

2 – ‘Never use jargon words like reconceptualize, demassification, attitudinally, judgmentally. They are all hallmarks of a pretentious ass.’ David Ogilvy
…a pretentious ass who doesn’t understand what he or she is talking about. Short words. Short sentences. Long-lasting impact. 

3 – ‘If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.’ Stephen King
Read as much as you can. It doesn’t ALWAYS have to relate to work, but you should be aware of what’s going down in the industry. Read science fiction, children’s books, the news, obituaries, greetings cards, football programmes, old postcards. Everything. You never know, that toilet graff
iti you stared at for five minutes in a Meat Mission toilet may one day ignite an idea.

4 – ‘Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.’ Neil Gaiman
It hurts when your senior or creative director says the strapline your genius subconscious weeded out at three in the morning doesn’t work. More often than not, they’re right. Get over it and figure out how you’re going to fix it. 

5 – ‘Have the courage to write badly.’ Joshua Wolf Shenk
This may be easier for novelists because they’re not working to a deadline tighter than Victoria Beckham’s jeans on Jonny Vegas’s legs. However, you have to start somewhere and the quicker you build up the courage to get the bad stuff down, the better your final product will be.

6 – ‘Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.’ Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt had it easy, people choose to read novels. We’re in the business of interrupting their favourite TV shows and cramming brand stories down their throats. So make sure your advert is entertaining, funny or thoughtful enough to stop them from throwing their remote at the screen. 

7 – ‘Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas.’ Walter Benjamin
Another painful one, but if you’ve presented 100 yellow-pencil-worthy ideas and still haven’t answered the brief, keep going. It’s there somewhere. Probably hiding behind the brain matter polluted by Buzzfeed.

8 – ‘If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.’ Elmore Leonard
Write how you speak. Write how the costumer speaks. Don’t write like a 40-year-old marketing director who has a London School of Economics textbook and a Will Self novel open on their desk. It is axiomatic your antediluvian, perplexing parlance will go [head explodes].

9 – ‘Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.’ George Orwell
Avoid clichés like the plague [LoL]. They make your ads the same as every other boring ad. Overused figures of speech switch the reader to autopilot with a course set to Zombie Town. Think of your own metaphors, similes and wordplay. It’s fun. It will make your writing stand out.   

10 – ‘Read your work out loud. Only then will the tripwires in syntax show themselves.’ Everyone
Everyone says this. You may sound like a tit, but it’s worth it. Read aloud. Read it proud. Then hold down delete for a very long time and start again.   

Bonus tip – Always poof reed you’re righting.

Daniel Simpson

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